To celebrate the publication of Cold Earth, Ann Cleeves — author of Vera and Shetland fame — has written a murder mystery based around a traditional Shetland tea. Shetland is the setting of the popular crime series featuring detective Jimmy Perez. Mysterious Galaxy will serve tea, and four actors (including members of Partners in Crime, the San Diego Chapter of Sisters in Crime, and Write Out Loud) will read the script. Attendees can then show off their deductive skills, and share their solutions. Minotaur Books has provided copies of Anne’s Shetland series as prizes for some participants.
An interview with Ann:
Please share some of your creative process. What research do you typically do for your Shetland books, and what research went into COLD EARTH? How was the creative process different with COLD EARTH than with the previous books?
My research certainly isn’t hard work! I visit the islands, sit in my friends’ kitchens, drink tea and gossip. I listen to their preoccupations. COLD EARTH started with the title, which is unusual for me. Often that’s the very last thing to arrive. This quartet is based around the elements: DEAD WATER, THIN AIR and now COLD EARTH. Earth made me think about the burial service: ‘Earth to earth, dust to dust.’ So, the story starts with a funeral. In 2003 there was a serious landslide that cut the island in two. More earth. It just missed a small croft house. I used that as a dramatic opening to the novel. It set the theme of secrets buried and uncovered.
Did COLD EARTH unfold as you imagined, or did it evolve and take twists and turns from your original thinking?
I never plot or plan in advance. I write in the same way as a reader reads–I write the first chapter because a conversation, an incident or a person sparks my interest and then I have to write the next chapter to find out what’s going to happen next. When I describe a murder scene I don’t know who the victim is–I certainly have no idea about the identity of the killer. After about 40,000 words I have a very vague idea about how the book might work out but all the detail comes in the writing.
What do you like best with how COLD EARTH turned out?
I like the fact that Jimmy Perez lets down his guard a bit and finds some moments of happiness.
Why do you think the series has been so incredibly popular? What do you see as the key to writing a good murder mystery?
I think the setting has much to do with the popularity of the series. Shetland is a very special place and there’s an interesting contrast between the bleak landscape and the warmth of the people and their homes. This is very traditional crime fiction, and while the landscape might seem Nordic or Scandinavian, there’s none of the extreme violence or cruelty that has been associated with Scandie Noir. I’m not interested in writing about monsters. The key to writing a good mystery? That’s so subjective, because all readers are different, but I think believable characters should be at the heart of the story.
Any chance you’ll continue with the Shetland series after the eighth book?
I have no plans to write more at the moment, but perhaps I should leave the eighth book with the possibility that Jimmy might return.
What elements will fans of the Shetland series find familiar in COLD EARTH and what elements will surprise them?
I think readers will find the setting very familiar. We’re back in Ravenswick and the story starts with the funeral of Magnus Tait, who appeared in RAVEN BLACK. Perhaps the tone of the book is a little darker. I hope, as always, that they’ll be surprised by the denouement. As a reader, I love the cheap thrill of a surprise ending and I hope to pass that treat on to the people reading my books.
Why did you choose Shetland as the setting for the original book? I understand you once cooked in the Bird Observatory on Fair Isle. How did you end up at the observatory, and at what point did you decide Shetland would make a good setting for a murder mystery and why did you think that?
I first went to Shetland more than forty years ago, after dropping out of university. I needed to find work and a chance meeting in a pub in London took me to Fair Isle to be assistant cook in the bird observatory there. The warden must have been pretty desperate because I couldn’t cook and I knew nothing about birds, but I fell in love with the place almost immediately. It was much later that I decided to set a murder mystery in Shetland. I’d already been published for twenty years, when I went to the islands with my husband just for a day, to see a very rare bird. It was mid-winter, snowy and very clear and still and the ravens that live all over Shetland looked very black against the snow. I thought if there was blood as well, that would make a very striking image. That was the beginning of RAVEN BLACK.
In the dark days of a Shetland winter, torrential rain triggers a landslide that crosses the main road and sweeps down to the sea.
At the burial of his old friend Magnus Tait, Jimmy Perez watches the flood of mud and water smash through a house in its path. Everyone thinks the home is uninhabited, but in the wreckage he finds the body of a dark-haired woman wearing a red silk dress. Perez soon becomes obsessed with tracing her identity and realizes he must find out who she was and how she died.
In Thin Air, featuring Ann Cleeves' beloved Inspector Jimmy Perez, a group of old university friends leave the bright lights of London and travel to Shetland to celebrate the marriage of one of their friends. But, one of them, Eleanor, disappears--apparently into thin air.
Detectives Jimmy Perez and Willow Reeves are dispatched to investigate. Before she went missing, Eleanor claimed to have seen the ghost of a local child who drowned in the 1920s. Jimmy and Willow are convinced that there is more to Eleanor's disappearance than they first thought. Is there a secret that lies behind the myth? One so shocking that someone would kill--many years later--to protect?
Ann Cleeves returns to her critically acclaimed Shetland Island series with this stunning mystery featuring Inspector Jimmy Perez, who readers will remember from Raven Black, White Nights, Red Bones, and Blue Lightning. When the body of a journalist is found, Detective Inspector Willow Reeves is drafted from outside to head up the investigation. Inspector Jimmy Perez has been out of the loop, but his local knowledge is needed in this case, and he decides to help Willow. The dead journalist had left the islands years before to pursue his writing career. In his wake, he left a scandal involving a young girl. When Willow and Jimmy dig deeper, they realize that the journalist was chasing a story that many Shetlanders didn't want to come to the surface. In Dead Water, a triumphant continuation to her Shetland series, Ann Cleeves cements her place as one of Britain's most successful crime writers.